In the last article I mentioned in detail about the famous Wazir Khan of Shah Jahan’s era and today I will take you to one of his masterpieces, “Shahi Hammam” or “Wazir Khan Hammam.
Shahi Hammam which is also known as the Wazir Khan Hammam was a public bath built in 1634 by Wazir Khan and was meant for the general public. As we walk through the gigantic arches of the British built Delhi Gate and take the first left turn we see a building marked with a four feet high retaining wall. That is the Shahi Hammam or the Royal Bath. It is the only existing Royal Bath, one of the few remainders of 17th century monuments built during the reign of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan.
Some historians’ claim that it was for the royal females, and later it was converted into a public bath, while a few days of the week were specified for the females. The services for females were offered by female attendants in the Hammam.
The Hammam was very perfectly administered and provided a trendy service for travelers and public at that time. There were attendants to welcome the public inside the Hammam and inform them about the services being offered. The Hammami or the attendant provided the people with towel and soap and they would sit in the waiting area for their turn. The hammami or the attendant would call the person upon his turn and offer the services of cold and hot bath along with massage. The charges of all the services were minimal so that it could serve the masses and all economic classes. Now imagine the scale of this place and the beauty of serenity attached to it.
The public bath offered the facilities like bathing, massage, spa, sauna and what not. Historically and geographically the existence of Hammam made sense at this place. The travelers would enter Lahore through Delhi Gate, freshen up in Hammam and then went further for offering prayers at the Wazir Khan Mosque ahead. It is claimed by the historians that there was a rest house (Wazir Khan Sarai) opposite the existing Hammam. The rest house provided facility to the travelers for overnight stays. It was demolished in the Sikh period and later when a disruptive flood struck Lahore.
If you visit this place now, you will see that the building of the Hammam is still deftly decorated with fresco work. The cold bath area or the main hall is an eye-catching success of fresco with all the walls and ceilings festooned with multicolored motifs and designs. This attests the Emperor’s interest and attention to details for the public. Small openings in the ceiling of each room were made for ventilation and lighting purposes.
The functioning of the Hammam is another mystery. The steam channels were made under the floor which we know as hypocaust system. The woods were burnt under huge furnaces having water. That steam would swivel through those channels heating up the floor and the water in the reservoirs. The water pipes in the form of tunnels were concealed masked camouflaged between the walls which provided fresh water to the people. The used water was drained out through the open drain channels in the floor which was collected in a central pipeline from where it was thrown into the main drain of the area.
The Hammam is a single storey building and covers an area of about 1,000 sq. meters. At present it has 21 inter-connected rooms. These were the bathing rooms.
With the end of Mughal era the Hammam and its function met death. Its heating system was destroyed during the Sikh rule and many ornaments were pulled out of the ceilings and walls. During the British era it was transformed into an accommodation for the police and soldiers. After 1947 it was changed into a boys’ primary school, a girls’ vocational school, a dispensary and also served as office for various government departments. Rooms to provide residences for the government employees were also erected on the roof top. The northwestern rooms (Hujras) were rented out as shops by the Department of Auqaf and additional shops or encroachments were made on the northern, western and southern façades of the Hammam. These encroachments resulted in damaging the structure as well as water ingress in the foundations. In short, every effort was made to destroy the elegance of Shahi Hammam but somehow it survived. This also depicts the solid structure and stability of the building material that was used in its construction. The building passed every test of turbulence successfully.
Then came the year 2012 when the Walled City of Lahore Authority understanding the importance of Shahi Hammam removed fifty two encroachments from its façade and set out the conservation plan. Aga Khan Culture Services Pakistan extended their technical support for conservation and in 2014 the Royal Norwegian Embassy funded for the conservation. This process was completed in 2016 and the same year Shahi Hammam won the Award of Merit by UNESCO for best conservation practices in Pakistan. During the conservation the white wash over fresco work was removed through certain chemicals for revealing the original fresco underneath. Fresco experts from Sri Lanka who toiled with the students of National College of Arts carried out this task. Marble floors were laid in all the 21 rooms of the Hammam in 1991 restoration by the Archeology department. These floors were excavated during the 2014 conservation to reveal the hypocaust system.
The Hammam was an extended building which was partially demolished while reconstructing the Delhi Gate during British Rule. The foundations of some parts of the Hammam were revealed during the excavation which endorsed the historians. The foundations of other rooms and buildings were also revealed along with the main water channel of the city which has been preserved for the tourist. The one original dome is also intact on the roof top of the hot bath area. The waiting area is now converted into a sitting area and a small museum is also built inside one of the galleries where the artifacts found during the excavation are placed.
So now when you are traveling to the old Lahore – do visit this tourist hotspot. You can also have a fine dining experience as a restaurant Shahi Bethak has also been opened in the canteen of the monument. Also there are several cultural gatherings being held at the monument where the public can come to enjoy the memories of the past.
So did Wazir Khan know what he was building? Next will be writing about his another masterpiece…so keep following this link!